This article was last updated on September 22, 2023
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Verstappen aims to bounce back in Japan after disappointing weekend in Singapore
Max Verstappen is determined to make amends for his lackluster performance in Singapore as he took to the track at Suzuka on Friday. The Red Bull driver appeared to be in top form, and despite facing stiff competition from Ferrari and McLaren, he remains confident in his chances of securing pole position and victory.
Verstappen’s impressive performance in free practice sessions
Verstappen expressed his satisfaction with the two free practice sessions, stating that he enjoyed driving the car again and felt comfortable from the first lap. He believes that both Ferrari and McLaren have closed the gap, making the championship battle even more exciting.
Lando Norris, who set the third-fastest time in the second free practice session, admitted that he was not entirely satisfied with his McLaren’s performance. Despite this, he acknowledged that his team was in close proximity to Red Bull, which is promising for a Friday.
Leclerc and Sainz acknowledge Red Bull’s strength
Charles Leclerc, who achieved the second-fastest time in the Ferrari, expressed his surprise at how close they were to the competition. His teammate Carlos Sainz added that Red Bull seemed to be back to their strong form after the races in Singapore.
While Red Bull appears to be the fastest, it remains unclear how Ferrari and McLaren compare. Verstappen completed race simulations during Friday’s practice sessions, but limited information was available regarding his performance in these runs.
The second practice session was cut short due to Pierre Gasly’s collision with the tire piles in his Alpine. As a result, relatively short long runs were conducted in both sessions.
Verstappen used the soft and hard tires for short simulations in the first free practice session. In the second session, he completed a longer run on the prototype C2 tire provided by Pirelli.
While this information may not be useful to outsiders, it was undoubtedly beneficial to Pirelli. However, it’s important to note that the prototype tire will not be used in the actual race. The medium C2 tire from Pirelli will be the standard choice.
Ferrari’s Achilles heel in Suzuka
Ferrari drivers conducted long runs with the medium tire during the second practice session. The average times were comparable to those achieved by Norris and his McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri. However, both Sainz and Leclerc are aware of a potential issue lurking.
With an asphalt temperature of 40 degrees and a winding first sector, tire degradation becomes a significant concern. When the tire becomes too hot, it loses its normal resistance, causing increased sliding and wear.
This issue has historically been the Achilles heel of the Ferrari SF-23. Although it did not immediately impact the race simulations, which were relatively short, it remains to be seen how it will affect the drivers during a full-length stint.
Mercedes struggles at Suzuka
McLaren, known for its strong tire management, has an advantage over their competitors, including Mercedes. However, things did not go well for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell on Friday.
Hamilton expressed his lack of confidence in the car and struggled to find the right balance, leading to overheating tires. This highlights the difficulty of managing the tires at Suzuka, where tire degradation is high.
The high tire wear suggests that tire management will play a crucial role in the race, according to Russell. Mercedes will need to find a solution to optimize their performance on Sunday.
Pirelli predicts a two-stop strategy
Pirelli representative Simone Berra anticipates that tire wear will not be excessive, but tire degradation will be considerably high due to the high track temperature. Initially, it was expected that a one-stop strategy would be sufficient, but it now appears that a two-stop strategy may be more favorable.
Pérez struggles to match Verstappen’s pace
Sergio Pérez, Verstappen’s teammate, consistently falls behind in the time sheets on Fridays. However, he remains confident that his performance will improve.
Pérez attributed his slower time to a slight imbalance in the car’s setup. He expressed confidence in the team’s ability to rectify the issue before qualifying and believes they will perform strongly throughout the weekend.
Despite Pérez’s struggles, Verstappen appears to be in a league of his own. The Dutch driver is expected to dominate the race in Japan, leaving his rivals to fight for podium positions behind him.
Overall, the battle among Verstappen, Ferrari, and McLaren promises to be intense in Japan. The race simulations and tire management strategy will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the Grand Prix.